The broad wing of time

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

You look THAT much older 
than fifteen years ago.

Edward turned thirty the night we got our first Labour Government in 18 years.  It kicked off a period of almost-American hugging of strangers, singing in the street and crying in public.*

None of which I realised at the time, as I had got fantastic tickets to a lovely little play and sold my soul for a seat at the most fabulous luvvies restaurant for post-play deliciousness, expensive cocktails and shameless, libellous eavesdropping.

At the interval, having sat with a smacked-arse face through the first half, he announced he wanted to go home.  I had wondered how a dyed-in-the-wool Conservative would deal with grinning Tony and the un-English leaping and whooping, so I was not too surprised.

I suggested we went to the restaurant early and drown his election sorrows.  To my surprise, he declined, and mooched off along the river, glumly and silently ignored the pile of presents, and went to bed.

It turned out that he was gutted at the end of his youth.  Having previously skipped about in a state of Peter-Pan-dom, he could not believe he was a grand old man of thirty.  It took days for him to even realise that Labour were in power.

I will spare you the carnage that was his 40th.

He is 47 tomorrow.  We have a pile of hidden presents, some stashed fizz should he wake up with a smile and some very strong coffee if not.  The children know not to mention numbers and to exclaim hourly at how much younger he looks than last year.  I have planned nothing more elaborate than a walk on the beach with the dog.  We might stop for a piece of cake if the storm clouds keep away.

A new Government is, it seems, totally beyond any of us.

*Of the British public, you understand.  Not Edward.  In a million years.

The just and the unjust

Friday, 25 April 2014

You may laugh, but I've emptied a whole selection box in here, 
plus a couple of eggs I nicked from the bots 
and the left-over cooking chocolate.  
That should do me until Monday.

We had a delicious houseful over Easter - all arrived with chocolate and one with a new game of murder.  As we were to be together for several days, we each picked a name, place and object.  The deadline was 9pm Easter Sunday and before then, you had to get your victim into the place assigned and hand them the object - thus killing them.

There were several false starts - Edward insisted the pub was a viable location, even for the children, and Rose minded dreadfully that boys planned to be in her huge, perfectly-filed wardrobe with handfuls of raspberries and a football boot.

I was so distracted by hiding chocolate and refereeing the church refuseniks and the tradition-at-all-cost-niks that I was murdered within minutes.  'Mum, can you sign this for school, you need this green pen, ha! you're muu-uu-rdered!'

The others strung it out and showed remarkable ingenuity; a chili in the newsagent, reading specs in the shed.  There was an elaborate hoax involving a blocked sink and chisel and some jokes in very poor taste about nails and crosses.

The Pretty One and I went to church by ourselves in the end, pretending religious choice and freedom; in reality, cowards in the face of wrangling sleepy six-footers into chinos and clean shirts.

On the walk there we remembered the time when, as little girls, we got dreadful giggles at a bearded man snoring like a buffalo in our pew.   Our Granny was furious and worse, disappointed, and we walked home with downcast faces and hearts.  Just as we reached our drive, she pulled out a little packet of chocolate buttons and let us share them.

I'd like to think she gave us wisdom too, but neither of us can remember anything she said, only the painful scrubbing we had to subsequently endure with a spat-on tissue to remove the chocolate evidence.

We are many decades on now, and so perfectly capable of removing, from our almost-50-year-old faces and fingers, the traces of praline and dark chocolate that we had stashed in our handbags with the collection fiver and savoured, smugly and secretly, on our walk home after the service.  Full of peace, laughs and Godiva,  the Pretty One was a sitting duck as we passed the bus stop.  "You've got the evidence all over your chops, quick, use this bit of loo roll.'  Murdered. Best bit of Easter.

ale poured out of an ugly hand

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Get an arse on, Mary, before he comes round.  
Seven gins gives us thirty minutes. 
Get the car keys and his wallet and let's scarper.

At University, I had a boyfriend with a family house in Cornwall and an Alfa Romeo.  It was a silly relationship, based on drama and mutual disappointment, the sort you can only indulge in when you are young and have the hours to fritter.  Blinded by my love for Daphne Du Maurier, I accepted an invitation for a few days in Cornwall.

I did not drive and he thought I should.  On the way, we stopped half-way across Bodmin Moor at a deserted airfield, for me to take the wheel of his pride and joy.

More fool him.

After the lesson, which left us both shaking and hissing in inaudible fury, we stopped at Jamaica Inn. It's a low stone building that appears unexpectedly at the side of the road and had, to my imaginative eye, a brooding and ominous air.

It was empty apart from a parrot, a perfect authentic touch. The fog rolled in, the gin glasses emptied, the arguments grew more circular and obtuse and we were forced to stay the night.  I thought it would be an adventure.

More fool me.

I didn't sleep a wink.  The lightbulb in the bedside lamp flickered on and off; everything creaked or moaned or slammed.  I sat up trying to start more debate so I would have company; he snored on. I was probably a fanciful young lady, but I did feel chilled and afraid and was very pleased to leave the next day.  We broke up soon after.  I still miss that car.

The BBC have just done an adaptation of Jamaica Inn.  It has been slated by viewers unable to follow the plot; it is apparently full of indistinct mumbling and bad diction.  Reviews are full of irritated complaint at the way the incoherent muttering ruins the storyline and alienates the characters.  I remember the feeling well.

to hum and buzz

Friday, 18 April 2014

There are, apart from the obvious, certain things which set men wide apart from women.  One is the ability to follow a game of cricket.  Arbitrary rules and indolent play over several languid days, frequent breaks for tea-and-sandwiches, several changes of  all-white clothes, and indeterminate outcome? That pastime could never have been invented by the practical, efficient, gluten-avoiding, answer-demanding sex.

Similarly, the ability to wallow for hours in the bath, listening to commentary on cricket and perfecting the art of tap-turning-with-one-toe is for chaps.  Edward assures me that the addition of a sock, preferably a single gorgeous cashmere Christmas one, stuffed in the overflow to ensure maximum water levels, is sublime.  And invented by males at boarding school where the hot water was seriously rationed. I have pointed out that this is 2014 and he is a grown man with charge of the energy supplies to this house, but I think he still enjoys a quiet British rage against the machine, and who am I to deny him?

He was happily swilling about this morning, reading the Delhi Times online, when I wrecked the day by announcing I was going to cut the grass.  This too is a man's job and he was immediately torn. Relinquish the perfect, dangerously-filled bath or let someone loose on the lawn who may leave it with wobbly stripes? In the end, the bath won and I was allowed the key to The Shed.

I made a complete hash of it, of course.  I swerved round clumps of pretty daisies and went across instead of down and stopped to throw balls for the dog which left alarming bald patches because I forgot to stop the machine.  The MCC groundsman would have fainted.

I did learn, though, why men insist it's their job.  The sun shone, the smell of cut grass is legendarily sublime; the noisy mower meant I could ignore the squabble over who finished the milk that floated out of the open kitchen doors; emptying soft thuds of emerald cuttings into the compost heap was both delicious and satisfying; the smug cup of tea afterwards was heaven.

I've also developed a satisfying old-man grunt when I get up, reminding everyone that I've worked hard and I'm feeling a little stiff.  My turn in the bath, I think.

Find your way by moonlight

Sunday, 13 April 2014

This post has veered between Uriah Heep and Gwyneth-at-the-Oscars, so I'm giving up.  Not my most eloquent hour, but there you go.  It's finished and it's here. Thank you for your patience and all the fabulous comments.

If you want to read it, I will be thrilled to bits.  I hope you like it.  I'm off for a lie down.  And cake.

Trunk call

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

The harsh tring of the bell made Laura jump.  Her first thought was that, after all the months and years and decades of bludgeoning her; the hints, threats, portentous drawing back of the curtain onto the barren desert that her life would be without him, Martin had finally gone.  That the doorbell of the musty, crowded antique shop had rung behind her husband, heralding the end of her life, left behind among the unwanted, the unclaimed, the broken, while he strode away gulping the clean air, free from the atmosphere of disappointment that shrouded her.

Then she heard his voice; viscous like syrup. Pouring flattery and obsequious observation into the ear of the shop lady, whose startled flutterings and chirrups belied her stolid middle age. She was younger than Laura, though, who felt every second of her years in shops like this.  Looking at her childhood, labelled as antiques and curios.  There, an exact copy of the grinning toy monkey she used to wind round her neck, here a box of the soap power her mother used, a mangle, the garish imprint of the comic she would rush to pick up every week.  All the domestic minutia of her growing up now transplanted as objects over which people smiled or exclaimed, coveted and collected, framed on spare brick walls, jumbled ironically on stylised retro kitchen shelves.

This faint but constant misery was a comfortable old cardigan now, like an old friend whose spiky comments have lost their ability to wound over the years, and who now merely irritates; a soft burr in a shoe.

There it came again, tring, tring! Laura looked over to a crowded open dresser; shelves packed with dusty ruby glass, a shell-pink dinner service, dulled with grime, piled unsteadily beside rusting eggbeaters, a flaccid pile of stained doilies.  She took a step towards the shelves, curious.

There was an ancient telephone.  Its thin elegant handle curved round into the emphatic flat perforations of the ear-piece, and at the other end, the pointed arc for speaking.   The squat body bore a sepia paper disc, listen before calling.  In faded ink, she read: Kilbride 23.  The cord was braided and worn. Laura put her index finger in the cold metal dial and listened intently.  In the background, she was aware of Martin extravagantly complementing the poor woman on her magnificent business acumen, such a rare quality in such an attractive lady.

Tring! Laura jumped, then hesitantly picked up the receiver.  The handle was dense and felt warm in her hand.  She put the receiver to her ear and breathed in the immediately familiar camphor smell of Bakelite.  Instead of the deadness she expected to hear, there was a rushing, open sort of sound on the line; a faint, far-away whistle.

Then she heard voices.  It sounded like the little children’s choir she had listened to on the radio when she was very young.  High, tinkling voices, mixed with static and hissing, a sibilant fizz that distorted the voices.  They seemed to sing, over and over again, “Run, run, run.”  The single syllable grew louder, the static cleared.  There was no mistaking the word; it was at once harmonious and commanding.  Then a sudden, shocking silence.

She replaced the receiver in the cradle with a clunk.  In four steps, she had reached the door.  With one hand, she pulled it open, with the other, she checked for the car keys in her pocket.  Two more steps and she was gone, hurrying through the weak April sunshine, where the brave lilac flags of crocuses pushed hopefully through the damp, awakening earth.